An Orchestra As A Commodity? Apparently So.

I hope I wasn’t the only person struck by the fact that the 06/23/06 New York Times article by Dan Wakin about Gilder Lehrman Hall presented a powerful position about the nature of a performing arts organization…

In particular, the article reports that the Morgan Library and Museum, which built the new concert space,

“In a coup, the Morgan has lured away the St. Luke’s Chamber Ensemble from [Carneigie’s] Zankel Hall…”

To me, that portrays the St. Luke’s Chamber Orchestra as a commodity: something useful that can be turned to commercial or other advantage. More to the point, they are something to tempt away from a name brand venue; namely, Carnegie.

Naturally, the article doesn’t go into the distressing state of orchestral finance, nor should it. However, I keep my eye on St. Luke’s and I think they if I had to rank orchestras based on financial vitality; St. Luke’s would easily make the top five.

I doubt this fact is lost on the cultural movers and shakers within NYC and they are likely well aware that St. Luke’s artistic accomplishment is accompanied by healthy financial practices. Frankly, if St. Luke’s were a publicly traded company, they would have been bought-out by a now.

As such, the questions this article should inspire every orchestra manager to ask are: “How do my local venues perceive our organization, as a commodity or a liability? Why?” In this case, honesty is your best ally and the best suited people to provide useful answers can be found outside your organization.

About Drew McManus

"I hear that every time you show up to work with an orchestra, people get fired." Those were the first words out of an executive's mouth after her board chair introduced us. That executive is now a dear colleague and friend but the day that consulting contract began with her orchestra, she was convinced I was a hatchet-man brought in by the board to clean house.

I understand where the trepidation comes from as a great deal of my consulting and technology provider work for arts organizations involves due diligence, separating fact from fiction, interpreting spin, as well as performance review and oversight. So yes, sometimes that work results in one or two individuals "aggressively embracing career change" but far more often than not, it reinforces and clarifies exactly what works and why.

In short, it doesn't matter if you know where all the bodies are buried if you can't keep your own clients out of the ground, and I'm fortunate enough to say that for more than 15 years, I've done exactly that for groups of all budget size from Qatar to Kathmandu.

For fun, I write a daily blog about the orchestra business, provide a platform for arts insiders to speak their mind, keep track of what people in this business get paid, help write a satirical cartoon about orchestra life, hack the arts, and love a good coffee drink.

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1 thought on “An Orchestra As A Commodity? Apparently So.”

  1. That is a pretty sharp move to lure musicians from St. Luke’s for the Morgan Library. Carnegie obviously doesn’t have to worry about plugging the gap in Zankel, given the cachet of the Carnegie Hall brand name.

    As sort of a side bar, there’s been some interesting discussion here in St. L. about Jennifer Montone’s move to The Philadelphia Orchestra from the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra, in that she will actually somehow be able to hold down the principal horn chair in both orchestras for next season. Obviously she’ll be accumulating the frequent flyer miles in doing so, not to mention two salaries. On the subjects of economics and commodities, it says something about how much both orchestras value her services that they were willing to let her “double dip” in this way.

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